writing stuff

i always wanted to be a Beat, a bohemian.

instead, suddenly i find myself  in the Business section of the bookstore, just an aisle over from Philosophy.

i hunker down, intent, studying the titles on the shelves with the rabid eyes of a shark looking to game the casino. i am giving myself a personal, experiential education in How To Maybe Write a Bestseller About Ideas and Social Media. go hard or go home, they say where i’m from.

i has me a literary agent.

i pinch myself.

all these years of dreaming of being discovered for my sizzling cool. instead, i stoop in the Business aisle, plotting the story of self as brand in the world of social media. a dissertation and a trade book. book first. with capital letters, cold hard ambition you can lay out on a table like a cadaver and dissect.

it is the story of how people with my artsy-fartsy prejudices and my humanities degrees and my bohemian posturings are – thanks to the way social media works – ending up in the Business section of the bookstore. it is also the story of how business itself is – for the same reasons inverted – becoming more literary and humanities-focused in its discourse and processes. the unholy marriage of never the twain shall meet, indeed.

it is, in the end, the story of the reputational and relational economy of the digital.

it is the story of brand as a personal rather than a corporate attribute; as a brave new world of identity. brand is not the sell, nor is it without soul. i LOVE this shit.

Allen Ginsberg, i think, would wink at me. or maybe hoist himself up on a soapbox and rail, soliloquize, erase me with the scope of his supermarket excursions. i bow to his shadow in either case, and smile.

i feel like Alice down the rabbit hole. you see that vial labelled Drink Me? hand it over.
i want help, though.

it’s a shameless kind of want, the same kind of shameless i always imagined would see me perched with my folk guitar outside some far-flung library strumming Dylan songs, the really long ones, with my guitar case with the embroidered Grateful Dead bears open for donations and a handwritten sign, If you Fear Change, leave it here. life takes you funny places.

instead i sit here in my hometown hoping you’ll tell me stories…yours. or those you think might resonate. i need a few case studies, poster children whose selves and brands i can explore and dissect.

i want to know, in these stories, about how the so-called real and the online self.  about how you and your virtual identity get along. i want to know if the lines between them have changed for you, over the time you’ve spent engaging online.

you don’t need to be a Big Deal to tell me about your “brand” and yourself. you don’t need to like the idea of brand at all. in fact, i might like it a lot if you didn’t.

you can email me, if you want, or leave as many comments here as you want. i may pry further. i may come and park myself on your floor and read your virtual Tarot cards like some social media fortune teller, promising the inevitable dark, handsome stranger and a future of millions of Twitter followers. i may offer my effusive thanks in the acknowledgements of something printed on paper, someday, knock wood. that something may be a Ph.D thesis or a tome you can buy on Amazon and in the Business aisles of better bookstores, or both.

either way. i am sitting, waiting for the story hour to begin.

all those years i dragged myself through Korean and Slovak and Turkish streets at dawn not looking for an angry fix but another drink, a smoke, a conversation to be in, arms or words there was something transcendental out there burning for the ancient heavenly connection, i knew it, i saw it in tatters and hollowed eyes and tenement roofs illuminated. but in the end, i came home and found it here, in the ether.

and so i laugh and burn my beret, and ask what you think it means to be a self in the world of social media?
edited to add: if not your story, whose? who should i be tracking down to explore success in social media and ways it intersects with personal identity? who’s your idea of an exceptional, or reluctant, or conflicted, or interesting “brand”? even if they’d never use the word themselves? and who or what (feel free to email rather than comment, as you wish) make up the benighted practices reinforcing the concept of personal branding as some kind of Amway Cult of Personality? all recommendations gratefully received.

i might even buy you a beer to keep you talking.

it ought to be easy.

i wake up and remember that i am in no rush. i remain prone a little longer, half-adrift, one eye pried open to smile at the small child thisclose to my face. today is the first day of the rest of my life, i intone, under my breath. morning dragon fumes escape my mouth, like bandits fleeing a crime. they knock small child over. small child rights self, peers back into the unholy vortex from whence the evil came, and chirps at me up, mommy! go get me some milk, mommy!

small children are resilient in the face of their goals.

i, on the other hand, am having a helluva time weathering the dragon’s breath of change.

i finished my full-time job on Friday. there was dinner and wine. kind things were written in cards. and i thought, good. phew. now onward ho.

i got a research grant and an academic paper and presentation accepted all in the same week, a coupla weeks back. then BlogHer’s Voice of the Week, and news that a social media consultancy gig came through: a surfeit of good things. this week, i present to a writers’ conference about blogs and social platforms, then stand up in the hallowed local Public Library and read. my own stuff. like a writer.

in the blink of an eye, i am all the things i ever wanted to be.

Monday i woke up and snuggled the kids and went back to sleep for an hour. i leapt from the bed to the shower and hustled myself downtown for a coffee shop meeting. an Arctic educational research contract that centres around a documentary film and me conducting social media research and writing papers; good gorgeous interesting stuff. i stayed parked at the coffee shop with my laptop for half the day, walked home, hung out some laundry, read 101 Disgusting Facts about the Human Body to a rapt Oscar and a whirlwind Josephine, played trucks for awhile, then drove out to the beautiful north shore of PEI to have dinner with a group of writers and a literary agent. which involved the best creme brulee i have ever had the pleasure of getting to know, and also some lovely people.

where, you ask, is the problem?

the problem is today. today, i looked at myself in the mirror and the dragon breathed and i cowered.

because i’m on the verge of all these new, intimidating things. they are things that will challenge and push me, force me to juggle three different kinds of writing and exploration all at the same time. they are things that will eat my days with deadlines and yet give me the opportunity to spend my days doing things i love. they are things that will pay poorly, for now; things that trade on the relentlessness of reputational economy and promise a longterm payoff, or two, if i am good. if i can keep up. suddenly, there are no more sick days.

today, i did not know how to value that. today, i feel like a pretender.

in my high school yearbook, amidst the poufy perms and the ghastly high-waisted jeans that scarred the self-images of most of us unfortunate enough to come of age during that era abandoned by all the gods of good taste, you will find my awkward and contrived graduation photo, the one that didn’t look like me even then. big of hair and cheek and beady of eye, i beam saccharinely down on posterity. somewhere next to the photo, by my name or the Simon & Garfunkel quote selected by my youthful hippie self, you will find that i was voted Most Artistic by my graduating class.

i was thrilled by that, for the record. it was amazing – in fact, startling and affirming – to be seen as i saw myself.

i didn’t say so then. i wish i had. i’d spent hundreds of hours doodling away all through my childhood. i did not know that i had worked for the skills i possessed, did not know they were even useful skills. i did not think of what i did as art. but for that one moment, i dared. then i gave my head a shake and called myself a pretender. who was i to think of myself as an artist?

i wish i’d known how to own that gift, attach goals to it, value it.

i did not. and so i put away childish things and i went off to college and i never drew again.

i have been collecting links and stories for awhile now on writing and publishing in the age of social media. a dying trade, they mostly proclaim, and this heartens me. i’m good with decline. it takes the pressure off.

i am afraid to fail.

i have been juggling a full-time job with parenting and blogging and launching some kind of academic credentials so long i no longer remember what it’s like to just…stop. to have nothing i need to write, no deadlines, no stories burgeoning, ideas slipping through my fingers. and it’s only about to ramp up.

every time i stared that fact in the face today, i cursed myself. who do you think you are i hissed privately to think of yourself as a writer? who are YOU to try to play academic?

the writing taunts me. it stretches before me, Sisyphean, slow and sticky, forever unfinished. i have spent a year in a constantly interruptable job and live with two preschoolers. between all that and Twitter, my frayed brain has the attention span of a gnat.

but this time, with this opportunity, i want to value the work i’ve put into these skills i’ve developed. i want to stop being afraid. i want to be resilient in the face of my goals.

after all, my children have the attention span of gnats, too, and they’re not hiding their wants and dreams and lights under a bushel.

so Thursday night i will stand up and read my own words in public. and i will plug away at the synthesis and research and the grant writing of grad student life and i will try to find balance and i will hope against hope that maybe i can make a reasonable life out of these things i love to do when they aren’t scaring the shit outta me.

and i will keep going. because i don’t want to find myself in twenty years time saying, one time? i did all this cool writing and research stuff and then i didn’t know what to do with it or how to value it so i just…stopped.

i don’t want to say that ever again.

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